Weekly Market Compass: Israel may provide a preview of what’s to come in the U.S. and UK — and in any country that achieves broad vaccine distribution
A month ago, I wrote about the great progress Israel was making in terms of inoculating its citizens against COVID-19. At the time, I said that we would want to follow economic data in Israel closely for indications of what the U.S. and UK could expect in the near future — as they are making swift progress in vaccinating their respective populations – as well as what any country can expect once it successfully vaccinates a significant portion of its population. Therefore, I think it’s worth re-visiting Israel to see the impact that widespread immunization has had on its economy. It’s clear that Israel’s vaccination program is not only having a substantial impact on consumer confidence, but also on spending.
Israel’s data shows the impact of vaccines
While vaccinations only began in December, they ramped up quickly. As of April 4, Israel has given at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 59% of its population, with 54% fully vaccinated.1 The economic impact was seen relatively early on. As morbidity moderated, restrictions eased and the third lockdown was rolled back — and the Bank of Israel’s Composite State of the Economy Index for February increased by 0.4%.2
Mobility, which we have found to be a helpful indicator of economic activity, has increased substantially. By the end of March 2021, retail and recreation mobility (restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, movie theaters, etc.) was off by only 6% from January 2020 levels, while grocery and pharmacy mobility is actually higher than those early 2020 levels.3 And, not surprisingly, economic activity accelerated in March. Daily credit card data shows that the value of transactions for the week ending March 22 was actually 15% higher than it was in January 2020.4 By comparison, back in April 2020, the value of transactions was more than 40% below its level in January of 2020.4 The rebound in spending has been strongest in some of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic, especially leisure and tourism.
Why is this time different?
What makes this time different than past economic re-openings, like we saw in spring 2020? Before broad vaccinations, the re-opening of an economy was a double-edged sword. Typically, a re-opening would often be followed, after a lag, with an increase in COVID-19 infections. In addition, the increase in economic activity would typically be tempered because some consumers would be reluctant to go out and spend despite the re-opening because of health safety concerns.
I believe this time is different because vaccinated consumers will be more likely to re-engage in pre-pandemic economic activity and, according to medical research, should be well protected against COVID-19 — so spending should not be tempered as in past re-openings. Israel’s re-opening is already proving that vaccinations are leading to an uptick in consumer activity, and they haven’t seen another wave of COVID-19 infections.
A preview of what’s to come in the U.S. and UK?
In my view, Israel’s current state illustrates what we can soon expect in countries such as the United States and then the United Kingdom – and in any country once it has achieved broad vaccination of its population. In the United States, 31% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 18% have been fully vaccinated.1 In the United Kingdom, 47% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, although only 7.8% of the population is fully vaccinated.1
The U.S. economy is already seeing significant improvement, further helped by fiscal stimulus. For example, the March employment situation report saw a far-better-than-expected increase in non-farm payrolls at 916,000.5 And we just got the ISM Services PMI for March, which was also far better than expected, clocking in at 63.7 with all 18 services industries reported growth.6 The only problem is that COVID-19 infections are on the rise in some states in the U.S., so vaccinations will need to maintain momentum in order to slow and ultimately stop the rise in infections.
The UK is a bit more complicated and hasn’t shown as much improvement yet because it remains at a relatively strict level of pandemic-related lockdown, although stringency is being eased gradually.
I expect that rising vaccinations and improving economic data are likely to lead to a continued rise in bond yields and outperformance of smaller-cap and cyclical stocks, especially in countries that are leading the recovery.
I should add that in the U.S., there are a few clouds on the horizon in the form of growing fears of rising taxes. And that is likely to be the case for a number of countries burdened with higher debt levels created by the pandemic. While far from a reality at the moment, if an increase in taxes becomes more likely– especially a large increase in corporate taxes – we could see some shift in leadership, albeit modest, to larger-cap and more defensive names. However, it’s important to stress I don’t believe this would end the stock market recovery, but could just cause some rotation in leadership.
But right now, the focus is on the virus and vaccinations. As the Brookings-FT Tracking Index for the Global Economic Recovery has indicated, the ability to control COVID-19 is likely to be the main determinant of economic success in 2021.7 That is why the index shows major economies such as China and the U.S. leading the global recovery. The index suggests that there may not be a coordinated global economic rebound, but that instead there may be a time lag for some countries, especially Europe and Latin America, given their lack of progress in vaccine rollout and general difficulties in controlling the virus. This isn’t surprising – and it’s something we anticipated last year when putting together our 2021 outlook. In other words, we believe an economic recovery is in the future for all parts of the world, but its timing and strength will be dictated by control of the virus and vaccine rollout progress, and so we will want to follow this data closely.
1 Source: The New York Times, “Tracking coronavirus vaccinations around the world,” April 4, 2021
2 Source: The Bank of Israel, March 24, 2021
3 Source: Google, “COVID-19 community mobility report,” March 31, 2021
4 Source: Bank of Israel
5 Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2. 2021
6 Source ISM Services Survey, March 2021
7 Source: Brookings, “April 2021 update to TIGER: The world economy stumbles toward a two-track recovery,” April 4, 2021